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CORPERS LODGE (FINALE)

We have come to the end of this
crazy series. To those who have
been reading this series and never
commented, I challenge you to
come out of your caves and say
something today. If you only read
Corpers Lodge in this blog, you
are missing a lot. You are like a
man in the middle of a garden of
Eden and eating only cashew.
Corpers Lodge isn’t the best thing
I have written, it’s not even
second, or third. Perhaps it’s not
even in the first ten. Take a look
at the short short stories and
short stories sections and judge
for yourself; make a date with
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Enough of adverts. Let’s read the
very last episode of Corpers
Lodge.
*
The long awaited 2015 Batch A
came to camp in May. Our LGI
was a platoon leader which meant
she was in the orientation camp
throughout the twenty-one days.
CDS meetings were taken for
granted and a sizeable amount of
corps members even traveled out
of Osun.

The Welcome Committee for these
corps members was set up, Gowon and Hameed represented our PPA, Gowon emerged chairman. He worked hard to give
the new corpers a gracious
welcome but he was frustrated by
two-third of the house who hadn’t
paid their 500 naira fee as of the
last CDS meeting before the
welcome day. Myself and IBK,
harmed with Gowon’s list, went to
our colleagues row by row, one by
one and taxed them. IBK charmed
them, I flattered them, we urged
them to pay. By the end of the
meeting only those who weren’t in
town hadn’t paid. IBK called them
on phone and got them promise
to refund her the money if she
lent them.

On the 25th of May, a
handful of corpers and I in a team of four buses charted from the local government went to Ede Camp, and brought our brand new corps
members home. There were six
corpers posted to my school;
three pretty girls and three hefty
guys. After the welcome luncheon
of rice and Fanta, every PPA took
their corps members home. We
took our boys to Snake Lodge to
be hosted by Gowon, Hameed and
the others, we lodged the girls in
Micah’s room. One of the girls
took a look at the cemetery and
began to cry; ‘I can’t stay here, I
can’t.’ She wept.

‘Then carry her to Snake Lodge,’
Agu said.

‘Oh shut up,’ I said. Agu hissed
and made for the graveyard to
smoke. He now smoked his weed
among the death because, as the
most high corper, he believed he
had to pay his due respect to the
death, and it was what he had
that he would offer them, smoke!

Uncle Dayo, Agatha and Mercy
consoled the crying girl. If only
Micah was here, one charming
look and a soft touch, her cry for
help would turn into cry for love.
But Uncle Dayo was no Micah, he
quoted the Scripture, God sent you
here for a purpose, before you
were born He knew you, before
you wrote Jamb, he chose
Cemetery Lodge etc. I suppressed
a sigh as I opened IBK’s door. She
was in bumshorts. The sight of
brown laps seized my breath.
‘Don’t dare come near me.’ I shut
the door and went near her.

It was still May I think when the
students finished Waec and came
and set fire to disused tyres in
front of our lodge. Agu wanted to
go out and fight them but his
lodgemates held him back. ‘Use
your teeth to count your tongue.
How many of them can you fight,
are you the scorpion king?’ Edwin
asked him.

Agu sighed. ‘If to say I get two
more guys with ginger like Corper
Kings, we for wound these boys.’ I
hid a grin. If only indeed.

In June the civil servants of Osun
State embarked on strike over
seven months unpaid salaries.
They had to wait for seven
months! Anyway, it was a relief
for us because the whole Batch B
in our local government had
marked June as the month for
our terminal leave. Our vice
principal said he didn’t know
anything about terminal leaves
for corps members. We insisted
on having it; June was set for a
showdown, then the strike.

On the 6th of June, as we
prepared to go and watch the final of the Champions League,
information came to us that the
village would be performing a
sacrifice and no one should be
seen outside after dark. Bullshit. I
wasn’t going to miss a cracker
match because some old men
wanted to sprinkle fowl blood on
ancient stones. But no viewing
centre in the village opened for
the match. I watched the match
on Twitter.

In early mid-June, the Batch A
corps members returned to town
from post-camp break. Edwin said
he must collect something from
one of the new girls. ‘I am the
only guy in Cemetery Lodge who
hasn’t enjoyed this village,’ he
moaned. I told him he needed
Jesus.

We began clearance for our
passing out amid conflicting
rumours over the date. Some said
we would be passing out on the
2nd, others said on the 16th of
July. I didn’t care, I was having
the best moments of my service. I
was taking long walks in the
woods with IBK; sometimes she
sang Celine Dion to me, then I
read her love poems while her
head was rested on my chest, on
bed. I wouldn’t mind being like
this till the Second Coming of
Christ.

IBK began to learn shoe and bag
making from Fisayo and Fatima,
and teaching me. She wasn’t a
very good teacher, I wasn’t a keen
student and I was always
distracted by you know-whats. I
had no worries except that I
hadn’t saved one naira from my
allowances. I would be paid twice,
for June and July, at the end of
this month but after paying my
debt (I finished my allowance and
incurred debts before the end of
every month–falling in love with a
fellow corps member is like a
small marriage, with the guy as
the minister of budget and
planning) and buying one or two
things for home and transporting
self back home, would take a lion
share of this pay-off. But I refused
to let this worry me. Perhaps
Osun State would pay us the
twelve months allowance owed
us. An impossible miracle, but
corpers never stop hoping.

It was around this time that
Corper Lawrence’s personal CDS
project of two toilets for his
school was commissioned by the
state coordinator herself. It was
on this day that we confirmed
July 2nd as our passing out
parade day.

June 21st, NCCF sent us off amid
tears, hugs and snapshots. We
the celebrants wore a uniform of
tailored wax material. Mine was
badly sewn by the very village
tailor and it nearly affected my
self-esteem.

On the last Monday in June, a
send-off football match between
the Good To Go Corpers and the
Still Around Corpers took place in
Community School pitch. I played
to impress IBK. A mistake. I was
out of practice and only too glad
when halftime came and I
substituted myself. I won’t tell
you the final score, let it be my
only secret to my grave (not yet,
mind you); you love gossip too
much, anyway.

On the 30th of June, the entire
corps members sent us off. We
announced a new CLO same
night, a quiet respectful boy from
Community. The next day, my
church sent us off. Myself, Uncle
Dayo, Micah and recently, IBK,
attended this church. I admired
the educated and very
accommodating pastor. I never
missed Sunday services; I never
forgot to carry along my phone
charger either, by the way.

July 2nd.

Agu woke us all up in Cemetery
Lodge around 5am, shouting at
the top of his undisciplined voice.
‘I no be corper again o, I no be
corper! Anybody wey no wan make
I see today thunder fire him
mama! I be ex-corper!’ I blocked
my ears with the sheet.

It began to rain. It rained till ten
o’clock with small pauses in
between. Corpers were bursting
with impatience. ‘Rain, rain go
away,’ Tina sang. They were all
dressed for Oshogbo. ‘Miri zobe,
zobe!’ I countered. They cursed
me.

I was still not dressed when the
bus Dayo chartered arrived at
quarter past ten. They left without
me. IBK stayed back for me but
she nagged so much I wished she
didn’t bother. Our bike arrived
before eleven. But it wasn’t our
bikeman.

‘What of Ojo?’I asked his
presumed brother.

‘Ah, Ojo, e no well, e swallow
medicine. E dey for hospital.’

I didn’t understand. IBK spoke
Yoruba to him and told me that
he meant Ojo took poison. ‘What!
Why should he do that?’

‘This world e tire him now.’

It ruined my day. I like Ojo.

There was no passing out parade
for us, we would have stoned the
governor. Corpers lined up and
fought and cursed in the muddy
queue for their discharge certs.
There were about twenty lines,
each was hopelessly unruly. When
corpers collected their certificate
and the photo album, they would
shout, come out and begin
snapping with it. I wondered why
people snapped with their NYSC
certificates and never with their
degree certificates. Why?

The next day, Agu left for his
Enugu village. Fatima and Fisayo
left for Kwara and Ekiti
respectively. Edwin boarded a bus
for Delta. Around four o’clock,
Agu called me and shouted, ‘I
done reach o, I dey for my village
now. Kings, make you leave that
evil village, comot for there o. I
dey my village.’ I smiled. Agu was
now home, in his virrage, as he
pronounced it.

The day after, Dayo left for the
newly created NCCF family house
in the local government
headquarter, from where he would
leave for Lagos. Tina traveled to
Edo. Agatha went to her corper
boyfriend in Ilesha where she
would spend her post NYSC
honeymoon before going home.
Mercy’s final destination was
Lagos, but she returned to Kogi
today. Myself, Edwin, Dayo, Mercy
and, of course, IBK would reside
in Lagos. Lagos, why always
Lagos?

The 8th of July was IBK’s turn.
Big girl, she charted a car that
would take her straight to her
brother’s house in Ibadan. It was
warm and sunny when the car
arrived Cemetery Lodge, but by
the time we finished packing, she
sun had lost its gaiety as a black
cloud began to eat it up. We were
standing by the car boot. IBK
looked up. ‘Like it will rain.’

I nodded. ‘The village weather is
mourning the departure of their
most beautiful possession.’

She slapped me on the chest. ‘Lie.’
She sighed. ‘How would Cemetery
Lodge have fared without you?’

‘Peaceful,’ I said. ‘No mischief.’

She locked her hands around my
neck, her eyes on mine. ‘When I
first met you, I didn’t like you.
Now I don’t want to leave you.’

‘I…’ she cut me short with a peck
on the lips, and buried her face in
my shoulder. We held each other
tight, very tight; it felt like the
last hug, and we didn’t want to let
go. ‘I will miss you so much,’
there were tears in her voice.
‘When will leave here?’

‘In four days’ time.’ I had stayed
back to complete the novel draft I
had been struggling with for two
years now. Since nothing kills my
creativity like travelling in the
middle of a project, I had decided
not to move an inch until I was
done. ‘I will be coming to Lagos
after few weeks in Anambra,’ I
added but this didn’t stop her
from crying.

She had cried the
day Mercy left; she cried when
Dayo left. Your tears will finish, I
wanted to tease her but I couldn’t
trust my voice, and the tears in
the backyard of my eyes were
looking for the tiniest trigger to
flood my face with salty sorrow. I
remained in her arms and dumb.
It began to drizzle. The heavens,
weeping in solidarity. IBK shook
with passion, the drizzle
increased in urgency. ‘You have to
go,’ I forced myself to say. In
reply, she gave my neck a tiny
bite. She placed her head on my
forehead and sighed as she
studied my eyes.

‘Romeo and Juliet,’ the driver
called, ‘abeg e done do.’ With the
greatest reluctance, the two birds
parted and began to move, arm in
arm. I opened the car door. She
sat down; she blew me that kiss,
coated with tears. I shut the door.
‘Don’t let that soup spoil.’ She
extended her hand, I pressed it
with both hands.

The engine shot to life. I kissed
her hand. The car began to move.
I let go. But I was rooted on the
spot as the vehicle took my
sunlight, my most prized
possession away. Beautiful hand
waved as the machine gathered
speed. I watched, helpless, like an
angel stripped of his wings, until
the car was out of sight.

Slowly, I walked towards the
graves and sat on the three feet
high cemetery wall. It wasn’t just
the pain of losing a woman, or a
lover, IBK’s departure symbolised
every good thing that had
happened in my service year. My
service year and Cemetery Lodge
weren’t perfect, but all the
positives were balled up in this
beautiful girl I love passionately,
positives that I had now lost
forever. Never would the Christian
virtues of Dayo, the Jamaican
flair of Agu, the pregnant
comradeship of Edwin, the loyalty
of Mercy, the mixed package of
Fatima, Fisayo, Agatha and Tina,
the general melodrama of all be
gathered under the same roof, the
same time. And there would never
be a Micah…

The drizzling had turned into a
small rain and was fast drenching
me. I knew it was time to go, my
laptop missed me; sitting under
the rain and mourning wouldn’t
help me. I rose to my feet. So
much pain and nostalgia to nurse,
but the only way to survive these
is to move forward, and the only
way to move forward is to move
forward. With the back of my
hand, I wiped rain from my eyes
and began to move forward.

The End
image

Because of the length of this
episode, I will have to share the
‘Acknowledgements’ as a separate
post next week or so. So many
people to thank, so help me God
(to remember every single name!).

wpid-wp-1435275277951.jpeg

CORPERS LODGE (TWENTY)

The first CDS meeting after the national elections took place on the last day of April, the top agenda, election of a new CLO. Bako, the chairman of Road Safety CDS group had been mandated by the LGI to conduct the election. But the LGI thought we didn’t need another blood splitting election in replacing a deceased CLO and suggested we amicably deliberate and appoint someone to replace Micah. The CDS meeting began by nine, the LGI was expected half an hour later, which meant the new CLO should emerge before nine-thirty.

Bako met with the other CDS chairmen, Lawrence (NEMA CDS) and Amos (MDGS CDS). They approached me where I was seated with IBK and drew me aside.

‘Micah’s death is a major shock to all us,’ Bako said. Amos and Lawrence made supportive grunts. ‘He was a great guy, he was an excellent CLO.’

‘He was. What’s up?’

‘The LGI asked us to appoint among us a new CLO,’ Lawrence said.

‘We believe you should take the post,’ Amos added.

There was a moment silent. I never saw this coming but my answer was ready. I would never bring myself to take a post that would constantly remind me of, and was in fact, a symbol of Micah’s death, and I hadn’t the energy to lead this mob, nor the patience to stomach the corresponding insult. I told them so. They sighed.

‘Let’s offer it to Chiemeke,’ Bako said. Lawrence explained that Chiemeke was no longer interested, and he wasn’t even in town.

‘This is really a Memorial School office,’ I said, ‘Someone from Cemetery Lodge ought to take it.’

So we offered the CLOship to Dayo. He declined. He was already a Jesus Corpers’ CLO.

We offered the post to Edwin. He said no; no excuse, just no and was going to start shedding tears. We left him.

‘We can’t offer it to Agu,’ Bako said. ‘It’s not meant to be for Memorial.’

‘But we still have six corpers in Cemetery Lodge,’ I said.

‘Who else?’

‘IBK will make a fine CLO.’

‘No, we can’t give CLO to a girl na,’ Amos.

‘A woman cannot rule over men,’ Bako said.

‘Why not? Is it penis you use to run CLO?’

‘Guy, bring your voice down.’

‘Bring what nonsense voice down? You guys are pure misogynists and you call yourselves graduates. You are all eyeing the post. And you can’t even hide your hatred for Memorial.’ My rant was harsh and not entirely true; for instance, the last point was false, Amos was one of those who nominated Micah on election day, and if they hated us they wouldn’t be offering the post to us one by one with genuine sincerity. But I didn’t care about little details, I called them names and began to walk away.

‘Guy, wait! It’s not about us. What if the LGI rejects IBK.’

‘Listen to yourself Bako, how can the LGI reject a fellow woman? It’s not possible.’

‘No one hates women like women,’ Lawrence said.

I hissed.

Amos sighed. They didn’t want to fight me over this because the LGI had warned against drawing blood over this post; arguing this would turn a smooth deliberation raucous, they knew all about my warlord credentials. ‘IBK is not bad sha.’

‘She’s not a snub,’ Lawrence added.

Bako shrugged. ‘What is her full name?’

I told them her name and code number and Bako wrote them down on a jotter he must have been given in one of the numerous uninvited weddings he attended.

‘Mehn,’ Amos said, ‘This is first in history. The girl should be proud of herself.’

‘She should give us a kiss each.’

‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘she will kiss me on your behalf.’

‘Criminal!’ And we sealed the deal with laughter. Just like that.

IBK had her body and soul on her phone screen when I returned to my seat. For one crazy second, I wished FG would place a ban on phone games. ‘I want to talk to you,’ I said.

‘I am all ears,’ but her face and fingers were still on the phone.

‘What game has eaten this deep into your head ?’ I tried to remove the irritation from my voice.

‘Guess na.’

‘Candy crush.’

‘Na na; guess again.’

‘Crush candy.’

She laughed. ‘Blockhead.’

‘Our new CLO is a woman.’

IBK turned sharply as though I had pricked delicate skin with a pin. ‘A woman? You kidding.’ 

I shook my head.

‘No, we don’t want a woman CLO o.’

‘She’s a Yoruba girl.’

IBK smirked. ‘Yoruba? What’s her name?’

‘She’s from Ogun State?’

IBK screwed her face as she thought. ‘Ogun State? Do I know any girl from Ogun?’ she bit her lip thoughtfully. Watching those pink lips did a warm jingle inside my belly. I felt a strong desire to kiss her, to get those little little bites that killed. If only a strong wind would blow everyone in here into deep slumber and leave us alone. If only… The LGI came in at this moment and the scrambling and readjusting to seats gave me enough distraction to tear lustful eyes away, and sighed.

‘Talk to me jor.’

Bako asked the house to rise for the NYSC anthem; I couldn’t answer her. We sang.

Youths obey the clarion call,
Let us lift our nation high;
Under the sun or in the rain,
With dedication and selflessness,
Nigeria’s ours, Nigeria we serve.

Then we said the national prayer (second stanza of the national anthem). We got seated.

‘Which girl is the CLO?’ IBK was persistent.

‘You.’

She hissed. ‘Be serious jare.’

Bako briefed the LGI who said something to him. Bako nodded, she began to write. Then she nodded, gave Bako an appreciative smile and rose to her feet. Bako returned to his seat among us.

The LGI welcomed corps members back from the break. She thanked and congratulated them for their brave performance in the elections. She regretted the death of Micah and praised him for the humility and grace with which he handled the CLO post. NYSC already missed him. She went on to say a lot more. Then she came to the issue of a new CLO. ‘On the day of his election, I remember Micah saying that the post of CLO wasn’t a man’s thing, that ladies if given the opportunity could do even better. Today, I can’t think of a better way to reward Micah’s memory than making a woman his replacement.’ She paused for the words to sink; they sank. She continued:

‘I have been working in the NYSC since 1991, some of you haven’t been born then, and I have never seen a female CLO. Isn’t it diminishing, even shameful? I have seen female LGIs of which I am one, I have seen female ZIs, I have seen female state coordinators, but never a female CLO. Why? If a woman can handle the entire corps members in this state, why not being common CLO?’ We listened, sorry, the stark injustice burning us.

‘The post of CLO being very sensitive to corps members, I never singlehandedly pick my CLOs, I consult the corpers. So after careful deliberations with your CDS group leaders, I present to you Corper Adebayor Joyce Ibukun as your new CLO!’

IBK slapped her mouth, sniffling shock. She turned to me. ‘I wee kill you for this.’ I blew her her copyright kiss. ‘Please come up here, Adebayor,’ said the local government inspector. IBK got up and began a shy walk to the front. The hall was evolved in total silence, not even a clap, no matter how insincere, just graveyard silence, very heavy, a clear rejection of IBK. My heart sank. In my quest to retain the post in the Cemetery Lodge, I had picked someone no one cared about as CLO, someone no corper would respect. This was outright humiliation, oh God…

‘Is this Miss NYSC or CLO?’ Corper Sharp Sharp demanded.

‘Everything na double double,’ I said and half of the house chuckled.

‘Boys will no longer miss CDS meeting,’ Sharp Sharp added. The whole house laughed, then began a small clap of applause which became a roar when IBK shook hands with the LGI. A handful of corpers even went out and took snapshots of the brand new CLO.

‘Hip hip hip,’ Corper Sharp Sharp shouted.

‘Hurray!!’ And they sang for ‘She’s a jolly good corper’.

The feeling of relief was so much it knocked breath out of me. I suddenly desired fresh air and began to make for the door. I stopped at the door and turned to steal a look. IBK was about to address us. I held my breath and waited.

‘Corpers wee!’

‘Waa!’

She swallowed. ‘I want to thank you for this. It’s a shock. I never dreamed this… I… I am speechless!’

‘Say you love us,’ Sharp Sharp screamed. ‘Just say you love us,’ the boys began a chorus.

IBK blushed. She opened her mouth then closed it. She bit her lip. We waited. Then, slowly, in a honey voice, she whispered, ‘I love you,’ and the boys went wild. Out of this jungle, Corper Sharp Sharp emerged and grabbed my hand. ‘We must celebrate this, I swear.’

Never had a single corps member owe another so much like I owed Corper Sharp. He had saved me once again. ‘What do you want, just name it.’ I would make him a minister if he wished.

‘I want to eat dog meat. Bingo, bingo!’ he sang.

‘I will get you one full dog.’ The promise was so unexpected Corper Sharp Sharp began to bark like a dog.

‘Corper Sharp Sharp,’ I hailed.

‘Who! Who!’ he barked.

‘Corper Sharp Sharp!’

‘Who! Who!’

‘Idiot.’

‘Who! Who!’

In the over forty years of the National Youth Service Corps, I swear, there had never been a crazier collection of corps members than this. Phew!

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